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Application for field trial of genetically modified organisms: high iron wheat

15 December 2021

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Researchers at the John Innes Centre have applied to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for consent to conduct a field trial of genetically modified (GM) wheat.

The small-scale field trial is planned to take place within confined GM trial facilities at our field station in Bawburgh, between March and August in each year from 2022 to 2024.

The wheat trial follows research at the John Innes Centre that identified a gene, TaVIT2 which encodes for an iron transporter in wheat. This knowledge was then used to develop a wheat line in which more iron is transported into the endosperm, the part of the grain from which white flour is milled.

Deficiencies in the mineral micronutrients iron and zinc are a global health issue. The iron content of staple crops such as wheat has been difficult to improve using conventional breeding, and as a result many wheat products for human consumption have to be artificially fortified with iron.

Increasing the nutritional quality of crops, known as biofortification, is a sustainable approach to alleviate these micronutrient deficiencies in people.

In 2019 and 2021, field trials at the John Innes Centre of genetically modified high-iron wheat demonstrated that the increased iron content seen previously in greenhouse-grown plants, is equally pronounced in white flour from field-grown wheat grain.

Following on from this success, the researchers have used knowledge about small molecules that help long-distance transport of iron and zinc throughout the plant to develop a second-generation wheat line. The greenhouse-grown plants of these wheat plants have more iron and more zinc in the grain, and it has been shown that the mineral micronutrients are potentially more bio-accessible for uptake in the human gut.

This application is to allow us to grow the second-generation high-iron wheat plants in the field. The applicant for the wheat field trial is Professor Cristobal Uauy, a project leader the John Innes Centre. You can find out more about this trial by reading our high-iron wheat trial FAQs.

The applications are made under section 111 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and will be considered by the Secretary of State along with any representations relating to any risk of environmental impact.

The Secretary of State will place information on this proposed GMO release on a public register within 12 days of receipt of the application. The reference number for this application is 21/R52/01 and can be viewed on Defra’s website.

The public register can be inspected by contacting the Defra GM team at: GM Team, DEFRA Area 3B Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR gm-regulation@defra.gsi.gov.uk.

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